Sunday, 21 November 2010

A windy week in a book

Some time back I bought an Andrew Greig novel by mistake. I hoped I was buying an Andrew Taylor novel but memory didn't serve before I got to the checkout. The unwitting victim of this disappointment, the Andrew Greig book (which happened to be 'In Another Light') went to rest on a shelf while I went back to reading other things.

Last week, I finished something else and drifting along the bookcases in search of inspiration, picked up 'In Another Light' again. I've had a great week. Even the weather was enhanced. Andrew's book has provided a space in my head for sweltering days in Penang before the War, laid closely alongside his narrator's winter in Orkney. All the while (obviously in sympathy with the Orkney section, day followed day of gales, and darkness and the horizontal rain Dumfriesshire does so well). But at least I got to spend time in Penang as well. And Greig makes Orkney sound actually worse. Liked the bit about salt and seaweed plastering the windows in the morning.

But weather aside, I love this book. Memorably, beautifully written (he's a poet too, and words are used thoughtfully, sparingly and to effect) I've been completely immersed in Greig's characters. His narrator is middle aged and has just survived a life-threatening brain trauma, in the course of which he experiences a vivid encounter with his long-dead father. On his recovery, he takes up a short contract job in Orkney, and is gradually drawn into researching for traces of his father's time in the far east. Eddie knows little of his father, who effectively tidied away his life, and that little is challenged by discovery of a long-ago scandal in Penang. Meantime, life in Orkney provides him with an acceptance and community Eddie craves, but also the challenge and risk of a not-quite relationship with a vibrant, clever, reckless woman, Mica.

Laid alongside Eddie's story and his gradual discoveries, Greig tells us what did happen in 1930 to Eddie's father in Penang. Which is a tale of class and broken rules, as Sandy, impoverished Scottish doctor meets two beautiful sisters in the goldfish-bowl ex-pat society of Penang.

I've reached that point where I could finish this novel in an upsettingly short space of time, and am consciously slowing down. Both Orkney and Penang are vividly, atmospherically created, and I'm so enjoying the counterpoint and balance of this father and son's exploration of how to deal with death (one has just survived WWI, the other his illness) and the risks taken in love, both in youth and middle age.

I'm very slow, really. This book did win the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award a few years ago. Should pay attention.

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